LA Unified to pilot 2-year kindergarten
In most states, children must turn five by June 1 or Sept. 1 to enter kindergarten in the fall. To its disadvantage – and against the advice of many educators – California has a late starting date of Dec. 1, with kids as young as four years and nine months starting kindergarten.
Recognizing that many children that young are not developmentally and emotionally ready for elementary school, Los Angeles Unified will start a two-year kindergarten next fall on a limited basis. There will be one program in each of the district’s eight districts.
That’s a sound idea, but it’s also a more expensive alternative to what others have proposed for years: pushing up the cutoff date to Sept. 1 and plowing the initial cost savings into pre-school for low-income children.
The current system has a double adverse effect. It’s sending kindergartners to first grade who shouldn’t be there. And it contributes to an early factor contributing to the achievement gap: red-shirting. Better known for college athletes who sit on the sidelines for a year, it’s the practice, mainly by middle class and wealthy parents, of keeping late-birthday children out of school for a year, so that they can enter kindergarten older, bigger and, if not smarter, then at least more academically ready.
LA Unified proposes that children in the second year of kindergarten develop beginning reading and math skills, along with social skills. The district is also hoping that some parents will send their kids to school instead of redshirting them.
Participation in the program will be voluntary, and the state will pick up the program’s costs.
The Public Policy Institute of California and Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Education Excellence Committee have recommended a Sept. 1 kindergarten start date. After reviewing 14 studies, PPIC concluded that increasing the entry date “will likely have a number of benefits, including boosting student achievement test scores” – a benefit from having more academically ready children take the tests.
The Education Excellence Committee projected (technical report, pages 8:13-16) that moving up the date would exclude 100,000 late-birthday children from kindergarten, creating a one-time funding savings of $700 million for the state. But unless that money is invested in pre-school for low-income kids who missed the cutoff date, such a move could actually widen academic disparities for minority children.
Since 1980, 20 states have moved their cutoff date. Not content to wait around any longer, LA Unified did the right thing by extending kindergarten to another year for kids who need it.